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Shipwreck mystery unfolds
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Joe Mecko, a former diver, has shed new light on the source of shipwreck artifacts found at Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Claims by a local treasure hunter that there is a century-old shipwreck off our shores got a boost from a former diver in the area.

“I’ve seen that wreck,” said Joe Mecko, of Madeira Beach, after reading a story on the subject in the Beach Beacon.

The article told about Jim Leatherwood’s discovery of shipwreck artifacts while metal detecting on the beach in Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores. Leatherwood said he believed his finds were the remains of an as-yet-undiscovered shipwreck not far offshore.

The story revived Mecko’s memory of a dive he made a few years back. He was searching for a friend’s boat that had gone down. Mecko, who was a charter boat captain at the time, said sunken boats often make ideal reef material that attract fish.

The fiberglass boat he was looking for was missing, except for its anchor.

“I followed the anchor rope,” Mecko said, “and at the end I saw metal spikes sticking out of the ground.”

The spikes were standing straight up in the sand, over a dark area, he recalled. There was no rock exposed, only sand. The location was about 10 to 15 miles offshore from Indian Rocks Beach, in about 40 to 60 feet of water.

Mecko said he knew the spikes had to be attached to an object as they were straight up, and he assumed they were a part of something hidden in the dark area underneath.

It was then Mecko knew he was face to face with history.

“This has to be some kind of wreck, I decided. It couldn’t be anything else, with the spikes sticking up like that.”

At that point, Mecko recalls getting an eerie sensation. “It gave me the shivers,” he said. “I wanted to get out of there.”

Joe Mecko left the area, never to return, and the memories of his experience faded. Until he read of Jim Leatherwood’s discoveries.

A call to the Indian Rocks Historical Museum, where Leatherwood had donated his artifacts, led to a conversation between the two men.

They agreed that their experiences could certainly be connected. Mecko, who has been spear fishing in the area since he was 14, has seen the effects of underwater wave action covering and exposing rocks and other objects on the seafloor. Upon learning where Leatherwood had found the old ship parts on the beach, Mecko said it is entirely possible that they came from the wreck he saw buried in the sand.

Leatherwood said Mecko’s experience confirmed what he had strongly suspected.

“There is definitely a wreck out there, likely a sailing ship from the 1800s,” Leatherwood said.

The artifacts the museum has now take on a new significance, he said.

“It’s kind of exciting, right in your own backyard, Indian Rocks has its own shipwreck.”
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